T H E   U N I V E R S I T Y   O F   A L A B A M A  ·  G R A D U A T E   S C H O O L 
The University of Alabama | Graduate School | Academics | Site Index | Contact


G R A D U A T E   T E A C H I N G   A S S I S T A N T
Orientation and Ongoing Development Survey Report 2001



The 2001 Graduate Teaching Assistant Orientation and Ongoing Development Survey was conducted online in the summer of 2001.  This biennial survey collects information from all departments with graduate programs with regard to departmental activities for GTA training and development.  According to SACS guidelines, The University of Alabama must document that all departments employing GTAs provide initial and ongoing training and supervision of those GTAs.

Thirty-five (35) departments submitted completed surveys in 2001.  The departments of Biological Sciences and Aerospace Engineering and Mechanics each submitted separate reports for GTAs teaching in the classroom and GTAs teaching lab classes for a total of thirty-seven (37) responses.  At the time of the survey, these thirty-five departments had 302 graduate teaching assistants individually approved by the Graduate School as meeting the SACS 18-hour requirement.

The survey consisted of three main sections: initial departmental activities for GTAs prior to stepping into the classroom, ongoing GTA development and supervisory activities, and planned changes for 2001-2002. These activities do not include The University’s Annual Workshop for GTAs, but represent what departments do individually to prepare their GTAs for teaching responsibility.

ORIENTATION ACTIVITIES Before/During First Semester as GTA:

The departments reported the following orientation and initial training activities prior to and during the first semester of a GTA’s teaching responsibility.

Courses in Teaching Methods

Asked whether or not their GTAs normally take a course in teaching methods before they teach, ten (10) said yes; twenty-five (25) said no.  Eight (8) of these departments require the course; two do not.  Of those departments requiring their GTAs take a specific course offered by the department, nine (9) departments give academic credit.  For instance, in Women’s Studies, GTAs are required to take WS 503: Teaching Women’s Studies, for which they receive 3 hours credit, and in the Department of Communication Studies, GTAs must take COM 501 “Introduction to Teaching Public Speaking,” but receive no credit.

Of the twenty-five (25) departments that do not require their students to take a specific methods course, three (3) require prior teaching experience and five (5) have optional courses available in teaching methods. Thus, a little over half of the departments require a teaching methods course, offer an optional teaching course, or require prior teaching experience.

One of the reasons that many departments do not offer specific courses is because different GTAs have different levels of experience when they enter a graduate program.  For instance, many GTAs in Elementary and Secondary Education come into their program with “lengthy” experience in classroom teaching at the elementary and secondary levels.  But at the university, they have a need for training focused on research related to the teaching of adults, since the GTAs are better able to implement the implications of that research in their current teaching responsibilities with college-aged students.  Computer Sciences, which relies extensively on GTAs for grading papers and other non-student-contact activities, would have different needs.  Thus training needs vary widely from department to department or even within one department.  For example, GTAs in the School of Music work in a variety of areas, each having a different system of orientation, observation and evaluation.  GTAs teaching Music Theory are not assigned classroom responsibilities until they have completed at least two semesters as lab assistants as well as completed a pedagogy of theory course.  GTAs teaching Music Appreciation are required to take a seminar on the teaching of such courses, and GTAs teaching Applied Music do so only after completing an appropriate graduate pedagogy course. 

In-class Experience and Supervision

Once a GTA is in the classroom, twenty (20) out of the thirty-five (35) departments require them to work as in-class assistants at The University before they assume full classroom responsibilities.  In addition, twenty-seven (27) out of thirty-five departments either assign the GTA a mentor or allow the GTA to choose a mentor to oversee their teaching.

Departments were asked whether they also provided the following: additional workshops, videos, syllabi, handouts, handbook/manual, or lecture materials.  All but one department provides at least two (2) of these teaching aids; the overwhelming majority (81%), provide four or more.   Chemistry, for instance, provides safety training and weekly communications on hazard warnings, chemical handling and disposal.  Obviously the needs of such a department are essential as part of the ongoing training of their GTAs.

Of the twenty-five (25) departments that do not offer a specific teaching course, 15 require their GTAs to work as in-class assistants, 20 require mentors, 3 provide alternate workshops, 22 provide syllabi, 21 provide handouts, 9 provide a handbook and 15 provide lectures.  It should be noted that the GTAs in some departments such as Geography and Biology oversee students working on established laboratory assignments and much of their interaction with students is devoted to answering questions on a one-to-one basis and are not responsible for full-length lecture materials.  More experienced GTAs and faculty in these lab settings always supervise GTAs.  History and Anthropology are also examples of this kind of situation.  In History, GTAs conduct only discussion sections of large survey courses under the direct supervision of professors who retain overall responsibility for the course.  GTAs having sole responsibility for classes is rare and only if they are doctoral students who have already completed their comprehensive examinations.  Anthropology GTAs may give a lecture or two or conduct one-hour section meetings, but this is up to the discretion of the supervisory professor.


Center for Teaching and Learning

Asked whether the department encouraged GTAs to have their undergraduate students use resources available at the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL), 16 said yes; 14, no; and 5, N/A.  Specific resources recommended were tutors (6), videos (5), Writing Center (3), study skills workshop (3), lectures (2), Reading Center (1), counseling (1), assistance with learning disabilities (1), CTL Handbook (1), old exams (1), books (1), independent study labs (1), and CTL teaching evaluations (1).

Evaluating Progress and Performance

Twenty-seven (27) of the departments conduct regular meetings with their GTAs.  Eleven (11) have weekly meetings, four (4) meet monthly, seven (7) meet two or three times a semester, one meets once a semester, and four departments meet at the discretion of the professor.  These meetings are conducted both individually and in groups.  Eight (8) departments meet individually with their GTAs, eight (8) meet in groups, and ten (10) departments do both.


Most departments (26) do not use videotaping.  Of those that do, only the MA- TESOL program reported doing it “regularly.”  Management reported that “we’ve done it, but we don’t use it with every student.”  Communication Studies videotapes their GTAs two times a semester, Educational Psychology does “sometimes,” Kinesiology does “rarely,” Mathematics “sometimes,” and the Music Department uses it if the GTA is teaching in the areas of Theory or Music Education.

Other Evaluation Processes

Various departments reported particular things their department does in addition to the above items.  For example, in History, the supervisory professor must submit a report on each GTA they are in charge of.  Women’s Studies, in addition to the specific course they require their GTAs to take, as well as a full year of mentoring where GTAs observe and practice teach, describe their supervisory process as “in-depth and complete,” meant to foster a comfort and familiarity with the undergraduate classroom and interdisciplinary teaching.  Criminal Justice and Advertising and Public Relations question students about the GTA in classes where they teach.  Advertising and Public Relations also checks the graded work of the GTA.  In Geological Sciences, faculty meet as a group to evaluate GTAs for award recognition, to identify and resolve any problem areas, and to assign students to particular courses.  In the Art Department, they distribute a departmental evaluation form that is used to inform the GTA about their performance.

Departmental Opportunities Provided to Enhance GTA Development

Departments were given a list of activities such as teaching seminars, visiting scholar seminars, lectures, teaching colloquia, continued mentoring/supervision, workshops, practicums, and focus groups for GTAs to discuss concerns and needs as well as explore teaching issues and techniques.  Departments provide varying methods of ongoing supervision after the first semester.  Thirteen (13) provided lectures, eleven (11) provided focus groups, eleven (11) provided visiting scholar seminars, ten (10) gave seminars, nine (9) provided colloquia, eight (8) provided workshops, and four (4) provided practicums.

Thirty (30) departments provided at least one of these ongoing activities.  Seventeen (17) departments provided three or more, with Management providing seven of the eight mentioned above and Elementary Education providing all eight to their GTAs.

Other ongoing departmental efforts include: encouraging students to take advantage of available workshops on campus during the academic year (Educational Psychology); having an “open-door” policy with GTAs where the supervisor is available at home any time and is willing to take over GTA duties in case of emergencies (Aerospace Engineering and Mechanics); encouraging GTAs to participate in exam preparation with group correction of final exams (Modern Language and Classics); use of a specific text on teaching undergraduate science courses (Biological Sciences); giving GTAs the opportunity to visit faculty lectures similar to what they are teaching (Chemistry); and helping GTAs participate in the Studio Foundations Program (Art).


Departments were given the following list of changes that could be considered for the immediate future to assist their GTAs.  These were the responses: requiring a course on teaching (3), providing an optional course on teaching (2), having more class visits by faculty members and/or veteran GTAs (14), expanding teaching evaluations (3), videotaping GTAs (3), increasing mentoring/supervision (12), refining the mentoring process (7), team teaching (3), rotating faculty members in charge of GTAs (5), having more meetings with GTAs (6), providing colloquia or seminars on teaching (7), developing a handbook or manual for GTAs (4), assembling a task force or committee to address GTA issues (0), developing a 2-day pre-orientation before the start of the Fall semester (1), development of a resource bank (activities, ideas, handouts, pictures, audio/video, PowerPoint and Web CT) (1), and shifting introductory courses from traditional lecture/lab format to a studio format (1).

It is interesting to note that the most frequently considered changes center on supervisory issues: having more class visits by faculty members, increasing mentoring/supervision, and refining the mentoring process.  For instance, Geography is switching to a different faculty member that will insure a “more regular and purposeful” program for GTAs than has been the case in the past.  Biological Sciences seconds the desire for better training of GTA Coordinators.  While time constraints on faculty members who supervise GTAs is a big concern, more skillful handling of GTAs could help the department run more smoothly and efficiently in the long run.

DESIRED ADDITIONAL SERVICES to be Provided by The University

Different departments had specific additional services that they would like to see The University provide.  Computer Sciences suggested that basic handouts on course policies, University policies, and “special” situations such as students with disabilities, rude and abusive students, and sexual harassment be provided.  Geology noted the success of the ITAP (International Teaching Assistant Program) orientation for non-English speaking students that videotapes and critiques each GTA prior to their entering the classroom.  Geology suggested that these activities be included in the Annual GTA Workshop offered by the Graduate School.  This is a classic case of departments being ill informed of opportunities that currently exist.  All the above suggestions/activities are currently a part of the Annual Workshop.  Perhaps more could be done to insure that all departments fully understand the nature of the required workshop and how essential it is in preparing GTAs for the classroom.

Elementary Education believes a solid course incorporating the research on effective teaching, particularly focused on the teaching of adults and how adults learn, should be required of all GTAs, particularly doctoral students.  Secondary Teaching and Learning has a faculty member who has taught such a course at another university.  They suggest that this department should be asked to provide such a course for doctoral students who are teaching assistants at The University, and that each department should give credit for that course.  Since these doctoral candidates are likely to teach in a higher education setting, they should take a course on instruction in higher education that incorporates the research base that exists.

Interdisciplinary Teacher Education suggests providing opportunities for GTAs to develop expertise in distant education techniques.  Art suggests a contemporary bibliography that outlines and defines new trends in college/university teaching.  These could be incorporated into a class as suggested by Elementary Education along with a component on how to supervise GTAs.

Final concerns centered on funding needs.  Modern Languages and Classics would like increased funding for travel to professional conferences and for research, more funding for the acquisition of teaching resources and further technology training opportunities for GTAs, and increased GTA stipends.  They argue that increasing stipends will assist in the recruitment and retention of quality GTAs, increasing The University’s competitive edge.  Art relies heavily on GTAs who teach classes and they have trouble growing their program even though the role GTAs play is increasing in their department.  They need more resources for assistantship support, and more logistical support for GTAs, namely space for them to attend the Studio and Art History Program.


University of Alabama | Graduate School | Site Index | Contact | Last Update 09/16/2014